A breeze. A warm breeze. A single fluffy cloud, travelling leisurely across a brilliant blue sky. Olivia Monroe holds up her hand to compare the size, the said cloud only covers three of her fingers. No fear of shade there. She pretends that the damp edges are brushing against her nail tips. She squints as she moves her hand, the glorious sun blinding her. A blade of grass tickles her bare feet, she looks down and it isn’t a blade of grass, it’s a tiny beetle running across her skin. Not to bother. Insects never scare her. She sits back and leans against the ground, hitching her dress up a little more in the hopes she could catch some semblance of a tan on her fair legs. She can feel her pores opening on her cheeks, welcoming the sun rays with open arms. It feels good – almost cosy; though, for fear of freckling even more, she pulls her straw hat from her head and balances it on her face. A million beams of light stream through, like pouring melted gold through a sieve. The beams dance as she shifts her back to align better on the slope of grass she is lounging on. Somewhere in the distance a magpie clicks its beak.
It is July, and Olivia is basking in the first day of summer after finishing University. She is currently enjoying her last summer holiday before a life of employment. Not that she has any leads on a job at the moment, but that’s a September problem. Not something to be thought of during a day of British sunshine. These isles seldom experience such weather and sitting here, now, out in the middle of a wide-open field, with no-where to be and not much to do, Olivia refuses to let any doubts or worries of any kind, creep into her sun-swamped mind. If she struggles to find work there’s always her friend who teaches children contemporary dance at the weekends and another friend who tours around for some theatre in education group, performing different variations of the aftereffects of drugs, for high schoolers. Though she can’t imagine she’s up to too much right now, with the schools being closed for the summer. The worry of finding work when the season ends, doesn’t affect Olivia, not when there are so many possible ventures to be had from friends.
Olivia had studied media…Olivia failed. Olivia doesn’t care. A lot happens when you’re figuring out who you are and sometimes, figuring out who you are can make you realize that the life you thought you wanted, isn’t the life you were made for. She ponders the events that led to this failure as a dandelion seed lands on her nose and she swipes it away. She had lost interest in her last year of the course and spent most of her time taking pictures at the valley surrounding her home-town. Then some of her time she painted – badly. There was a brief period where she tried not doing anything at all, but idle hands drove Olivia crazy and so she’d move onto the next thing she thought she’d be interested in: baking, babysitting, dog walking, dog grooming, hairdressing (resulting in a rather unfortunate, lopsided fringe incident with her neighbours daughter,) and eventually, the course came to an end and she’d gained nothing but student debt. Olivia liked to think of herself as a carefree person, but as of late, a great many things bothered her. The big things like the environmental crisis, to the little things like how her mother chews with her mouth open…her mother!
Olivia is brought out of an accidental thought spiral as she realises her mother will be home any minute now and there may or may not be a large pile of dirty pots next to the sink – and yes, they may or may not have come from her bedroom. A dog barks. Olivia sits up, the straw hat toppling onto her lap. She spins around, and sees a small fluffy dog with ginger fur, big ears and a small head, bounding over a tall patch of grass a short distance away. A bushy tail swishes from side to side like a flag revealing the location of a cadet in trouble. Beyond the small dog, Olivia sees a man walking over, he is tall. Perhaps five foot, nine. Somewhere about there anyway. His deep brown hair is bobbing as he bounds a little to reach his dog. As he kneels down to attach the leash, he looks up and sets his eyes on Olivia, who is noting the man’s wardrobe. Dark blue jeans and a white t-shirt. She is wondering how warm he must be in this heat. He lifts a hand to bid “hello.” Olivia falters a moment as she realises, she is staring a little too intently. She lifts a hand by way of response. Time to go. Her peace ruined she stands, setting her hat a top of her head and picking up her sandals that lie next to her, she begins to walk past the stranger.
A row of houses lines the top end of the field, all connected and all uniformed. The one in the middle is her home. A back-gate leads, conveniently, onto the open plot of land. She focuses her eyes on her destination, the red gate in the distance – a stark contrast to the surrounding brown panels which sit adjacent to the houses. It’s easy to spot, even from afar.
As she gets closer, she notices the man is watching her. She looks up and meets his gaze, just as she passes next to him. His eyes, which are as deep a brown as his hair, crease at the corners as he smiles. He’s maybe in his early thirties? Instinctively, Olivia smiles back. The dog jumps up at her knees, smudging a little mud on her blue dress. “Poppy!” The man scolds the little dog, who sits down and looks up at the man, tongue hanging out, mouth wide, almost smiling with no regret for her actions but with a deep look of love and devotion to her owner. “It’s okay.” Olivia assures as she kneels down to pet the dog. Her fur is long and soft, and Olivia can’t help but smile as Poppy licks her face. Olivia takes this as an apology and stands. “Sorry,” the man says, “she’s a little giddy when the weather’s hot.”
“Me and her both.” She smiles back, looking up at him from under her hat. She idly strolls away, treading her bare feet carefully over random pebbles in the grass.
As she reaches the red gate, which she pushes open to reveal her back garden, she turns and sees the man and his dog, walking over the hill and out of sight. Her tail swishing to-and-fro as they go. She clambers through the gate and into her garden, closing and bolting it shut behind her.
The garden feels a little small compared to the wide-open space beyond it, but still, it’s a decent size. An orangey-brown table and matching chairs sit in the centre, a black parasol with white frills along the edges, shelters it from the sun. To the left is a patio area, adorned with young plum trees. In the middle of the patio is a coal pit, surrounded by four logs for sitting on. During the cooler nights, Olivia, her Mother and whatever guest they have at the time, sit around the fire and roast marshmallows, drink blue WKD’s (the drink of teenage youth,) and exchange conspiracy theories. Those nights were Olivia’s favourite. Her mother would be carefree and enjoying life, living in the moment as she should.
She reaches the door and hears the clicking sound of plastic window frames, effected by the heat. Olivia steps into the house, her feet suddenly cool against the kitchen floor. She leaves the door open and blinks away white spots as her eyes adjust to the dull room. She immediately sets to her task, running a sink of hot, soapy water. As it runs, she takes herself to the fridge and grabs a cold can of diet coke. The can pops and fizzes as she opens it, taking a deep gulp the sugar tingles its way down her throat. The front door opens. Her mother is home.
Claudia Monroe is a short lady. Shorter than Olivia. She has pale blonde hair where Olivia’s is Jet black and brown eyes where Olivia’s are green. Even Claudia’s skin has a darker hue, like a cappuccino, which stands as a stark contrast next to her daughters’ fair complexion. The two, side by side, could not be further apart. It’s upon closer inspection that you see how their genes come together. They both have the same small upper lip, sitting on a plump lower lip. Their brows protrude ever so slightly and the little puff under each eye – another hereditary trait. The biggest comparison mother and daughter share is all in their character. Both have the same love for speaking their mind…a frequent cause of conflict in the Monroe household. However, as with most passionate people, the good comes with the bad and a big heart is a crowning factor they both share.
Today, the former is the only notable similarity. As is evident by the sudden glare coming from Claudia as she inspects the dirty pots by the sink.
Olivia takes off her hat and stares sheepishly at her Mother. “Mum,” she pleads, “I’m literally just about to do them.”
“You’re taking the piss, Olivia. I asked for one thing to be done before I got home. One thing!”
Olivia makes the mistake of rolling her eyes. It takes no more words. Just with the look Olivia receives from her extremely tired, overheated and irritated Mother, she knows now isn’t the time to pick a fight. She walks over to the sink, sets aside the can and gets to work, scrubbing day old pasta sauce from a bowl.
Her Mother, dressed in her worn out nurse uniform, turns to leave, “If you’re thirsty, drink some water. It’s too hot to drink nothing but sugar.”
“It’s diet coke…emphasis on the diet.”
“Fine, get dehydrated, see if I care.”
Olivia, hands still soapy, puts the open can back in the fridge and instead, pours a glass of water. As she sips, she begrudgingly accepts that the water is far more satisfying.
A little while later, Olivia is sat in the back garden under the shade of the parasol, Claudia sits across from her, reading a book with a rather risqué image of a tanned muscular male on the cover. Olivia texts away on her phone, confirming plans for the evening. Her friend, Emily Odis, is coming back in town from a three-month trip abroad. She’d been staying with her uncle who lives in Paris, so that she could study art and experience a new city. Emily is a lucky girl from a well-off family. Her parents are both corporate lawyers and are still warm to the idea of their only daughter fulfilling her own path. Emily wants to make portraits for a living and travel around the world one day. If Olivia knows Emily, and given they’ve been friends since the age of five, (she’s certain she knows her very well,) then Olivia is positive Emily will achieve all her heart desires.
Her phone pings:
Emily: 100% !!! I’ll pick you up at 20:00. You’re bringing the JD right?
Olivia: If I can smuggle it from Mums stash, then absolutely. Are you driving though?
Emily: No! My Uncle came back with me from Paris, he has a house up in the Lake district. Got his boring arse at our place for a week – bonus, he’s offered to drive us both to Owd’ Betts. Though, we have to make our own way back. Is that cool?
Olivia: Yeah that’s cool. Can’t wait! See you soon!
“Who’re you talking to?”
Claudia’s head has surfaced from her dirty book. “Emily. She’s back from Paris, so we’re going up to Owd’ Betts tonight for a catch up. Maybe a bit of star watching, depends on the mood.”
Claudia looks back down at her book. “Make sure you take a key, I’m up early for another shift in the morning.”
Olivia is frowning. Her mother works far too hard and it upsets her. She sometimes wishes her mother could find someone worthy of her, someone to help out. Get her out of the house every once in a while, for something other than work. Maybe one day, someone who can help foot the bill. Her father had passed away from an illness when she was too young to remember him. His life insurance had paid off the mortgage and that helped a great deal, but after that, there was nothing left to cover the costs that go with raising a child alone. Olivia knows that her mother works as hard as she does to support her, she knows that when they fight, she’s being ungrateful. Her mothers wish for Olivia to enjoy her youth while she has it, gave her the freedom to study at University and still live at home, rent free. It was her Mothers desire for Olivia to figure out who she was and what she wanted to do with her life, that allowed her the freedom to fail at university and to still feel like she wasn’t a failure as a whole. Now, here she is, still living at home at twenty-one, not paying a dime, not working…just being allowed to enjoy her last summer before she has to grow up. She knows that her mother is a strong woman and looking at her right now, she is filled with an overwhelming sense of love and pride. Olivia stands and walks around the table. She leans down and kisses Claudia on the cheek. Claudia laughs and looks up, “What do you want?” Olivia smiles down at her hero. “Nothing. I just love you very much.”
“Hmm. Maybe in this mood you do.”
Olivia shakes her head, “In every mood. Even when you annoy me.” At that she is strutting away, back into the house.
In her bedroom, Olivia examines her face in the mirror. Her eyes look almost blue after she’s been out in the sun for so long, but the green is still there. The freckles across her cheeks, her nose, her chin and her forehead, have darkened and give the appearance of dribbled chocolate. She actually doesn’t mind them too much, though they do make her feel like a seven-year-old. She dabs a little concealer under her eyes to cover her dark circles, then applies a little mascara. Her eyelashes instantly standing up to attention, gives her the appearance of being wide awake, even in the haze of the evening heat.
She brushes a comb through the ends of her raven black hair, allowing the curls to drop freely. Looking down she sees that her dress is still dirty – of course, it’s not a self-cleaning dress. She takes it off and lets it fall to the floor. She opens up her drawers and pulls out a few options. A skirt or shorts? Or maybe another dress. She opts for the dress. It is knee length and an off white, with thick straps. The top sits snug against her chest, but as it comes to her hips, the fabric flows out, the cotton dancing from side to side as she walks across her room to find a pair of black heeled ankle boots. Realising her knees are a little sun burnt, she spritzes on some sun cream and then a spray here and there of her favourite fragrance, Midnight Rose by Lancôme. Lastly, she accessorizes with a few silver rings and a long silver necklace that her Father had bought her for her christening, when she was a baby – a long silver chain with a rose quartz droplet at the end. She lifts it up and kisses it.
Outside a horn beeps, she runs to the window and looks down to the street below. Children are playing British Bulldog across the road, yelling at each other for being caught in time out. According to one red haired little boy, there are no time outs. A little girl with blonde hair insists he’s wrong and now refuses to play. She storms off down the street, the rest of the children watch her leave. Olivia smiles with a nostalgia for her own childhood. The beeping car, a black Land Rover range rover, is parked in front of her house. She is assuming its Emily and her Uncle. Nice car.
Olivia races down the stairs and into the back garden where her mother still sits, reading in peace. She kisses her cheek once more and jets off back into the house. Claudia calls as she goes “Key!”
She would have forgotten. She grabs her key and shoves it into a black satchel bag. It’s just a small little thing, not the most fashionable, but handy for a quick outing. She leaves the house and runs to the car. Emily is hanging out the passenger window. Her light brown hair cascades over her shoulders. Bright blue eyes glistening with affection for her beloved friend. She jumps out and throws her arms around Olivia.
“You’re so pretty! How is my best friend so pretty! It’s just not fair!” They squeeze the life out of each other. Olivia pulls back to look at her.
“Me pretty? Look at you! How is it possible for your hair to grow so long in such a short time? It’s amazing!” Emily laughs. “Wait for it! I’ve got something even better to show you later, when moody face is gone.”
“I can hear you, Emily.” A male voice shouts from inside the car. It sounds vaguely familiar. “He knows I’m only teasing,” she whispers, then louder for her Uncles benefit, “You know I’m very grateful.” Emily opens the back door for Olivia to climb in, then she jumps back in the front seat. It’s only as the driver turns around to greet her that she realises where she knows his voice from.
“Dog walker man!” She beams. “How’s Poppy?”
“How’s your dress?” He replies.
“It won’t stain, I’m sure.”
Emily looks confused between them both. “Olivia, this is my Uncle Nick. Uncle Nick, this is Olivia. Have you met?” Nick laughs.
“In a way. I knew I recognized you this morning. Sorry for staring, Emily’s shown me pictures. That’s where I know you from.”
Olivia chuckles in almost disbelief, “Small world.”